Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Lehrer, Jonah. Proust Was a Neuroscientist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. Whatever else may be said about Proust was a Neuroscientist there is no denying that it is an exuberant piece of writing, as enthusiastic about the magic of neuroscience as it is for the truth of art. The major thesis of this book by Jonah Lehrer is that art anticipates science not just in general insights but, more controversially, in several specific areas such as neuroplasticity and the neurobiology of memory. Lehrer explores the lives and work of eight artists, arguing in each case that their insights revealed, prospectively, the structure and function of the brain. A major lesson arising from this observation is that science must attend to the work of artists if it is to engage with the world as it is experienced. More than that, Lehrer seems convinced, although he does not explicitly say so, that a sufficiently sensitive neuroscience could map the mind. At 25 years of age author Jonah Lehrer is an astonishingly young man to have attempted this sort of grand synthesis. He is well qualified for the task, having completed postgraduate studies in literature, and postdoctororal work in neuroscience with Nobel prizewinner Erich Kandel. In the end Proust was a Neuroscientist must be judged a qualified success. Truth in art does not require the sort of independent verification Lehrer offers, but Lehrer shows that art provides a rich set of heuristics worthy of and amenable to scientific investigation. More than that, Lehrer communicates a passion for both art and science. . . . Read the whole review here: (For a rebuttal of what is rapidly becoming the latest fad in literary criticism, what is sometimes termed 'cognitive criticism,' see Raymond Tallis' essay "The Neuroscience Delusion," a link to which is posted here:

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